Thursday, June 6, 2013

Character Transfer Diservice

I picked a server a bit over a year ago, after consulting with three bloggers who I knew were playing the game.  All recommended the same server and even the same bloggers' guild.  The third party stats sites guesstimated that the server was the number three RP server in the region.  Unfortunately, the guild didn't really work out - all the members seem to have gone off to other games, and I haven't even been able to find people to get guild invites for my new alts, leaving me on a server where I don't know anyone.  I can name at least three other servers where I would rather be playing today, but for the not-so-minor issue of all the time and even money I have invested on the server with my six current characters.

If you really follow my games and guilds closely, you might have guessed that the unnamed game experience described above is in SWTOR.  Most of you were probably scratching your heads, because a highly similar scenario exists in many MMO's. 

SWTOR's transfers
After promising for the better part of a year that character transfers were finally coming - a year which saw 90% of the game's servers closed, including the seemingly healthy one I picked several months post launch - Bioware has announced its paid character transfer service.  Transfers will cost $14-18 per character (depending on how you purchase your cartel coins), and it looks to me like they will NOT be available for resale in the in-game auction house. 

Bear in mind that this is a game that specifically promoted making all of your alts on the same server though the game's legacy system.  My six characters cover all the crewskill professions and each has probably a million credits worth of in-game currency investment in terms of character-specific legacy perks, collection items, companion affection purchased with gifts, etc.  More importantly, these characters share a large array of server specific legacy unlocks, a few of which I even purchased in the cash shop using my subscriber point stipends. 

Despite all of these reasons why I opted to make this many characters in the first place and all the claims that the transfer service would be "legacy friendly", there is no discount for transferring multiple characters off of the same server.  I would either need to leave behind characters - and not get any credit for their future efforts towards my legacy on the new server - or else be prepared to fork over $80.  Even if I did move to a server that's better today (the Harbinger server, home to the Ootinicast crew, would otherwise be a top contender), I'd have no guarantees that I won't be in the same boat in a few months if the new server also goes belly up.

An industry-wide standard
In a related story, Blizzard is running a one-week only sale on its paid transfer services - Azuriel points out that even at 50% off these prices are still higher than the SWTOR prices.  At the time Blizzard announced the service, the stated justification for such high prices was to recoup the development costs for the transfer feature and to deter frequent use of the service to enable antisocial behavior.  Apparently both of these arguments can be dispensed with if it encourages more transfer fees.   Tera also apparently had a window for open transfers that is coming to an end, with a new fee starting next week.

I get that locking players into static servers worked great for the industry in 2004, in part because that's what the technology of the era could support.  It's not 2004 anymore, and I don't think it's reasonable to punish customers for choosing "wrong" months or years ago by charging them to play with their friends in a genre that's struggling to find ways to keep customers engaged in the product.  It's not good for my enjoyment of the game as a customer, and therefore it's also not good for Bioware's revenue when my poor experience leads to less money spent on their product. 

It doesn't have to be this way.  Many modern games offer single-shard or cross realm functions in one way or another (Cryptic games, GW2), and we also have the example of Rift, which offers free transfers between its more traditional servers. Unfortunately, this feedback falls on deaf ears when developers can rake in nearly six months' worth of sub fees by selling a single customer in my position on paying to solve a problem that was not the customer's fault. 


Bhagpuss said...

I still very strongly believe in the concept of Server Personality. It may be in my my imagination but it is subjectively very real and very materially affects my enjoyment of many MMOs. Consequently I am not at all in favor of free and easy movement between servers, even less of giant single-shard MMOs.

That said, I completely agree that there needs to be a simple and affordable way to move to be with friends or to escape a moribund server. The GW2 Guesting solution would be one solution but a better one would be to offer a limited number of free full-account moves before a fee is payable. I would think that over the course of the life of an MMO three to five free account moves should suffice.

Azz said...

What server and faction are you currently on now?

Petau Ristini said...

If Blizzard offered one free transfer a month I'd probably be playing right now. My old Horde server had fallen from being a regular high pop during BC to being a low pop ghost town by Cata. I don't see why I should have to pay Blizzard though for an easy, automated service I need in order to functionally play the game. I can understand using money as a barrier when a game is wildly expanding and you don't want every new server flooded with endgame players dominating newer ones. But these games are shrinking. All MMO companies need to make customer satisfaction with the game playing experience a priority.

It would take about $100 to transfer my Horde 'toons from a dead server to a live one. I'm not going to risk it though for fear that where I transfer too might die next and for the principle that I shouldn't have to pay extra to make the game work. Blizzard wants my $100 so bad they didn't sell me Mists and they haven't had my subscription money for over a year.

Green Armadillo said...

@Azz: I'm currently on Ebon Hawk, with characters on both factions - my Trooper is 55, my Agent is 50, and my Warrior is 37. Undecided whether to do Consular or Inquisitor next, but it's fair to say that I'll be faction-hopping.

Azz said...

Cool, same server. If you are looking for a guild on either faction lemme know.

I play mostly empire, but have begun branching out into the republic side. Loved the imp stories, except the bounty hunter was a bit disappointing.